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Connolly Leads Buffalo to Victory

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
Tim Connolly's creativity was overflowing Friday night, as the Sabres' center set a single-game career high with a pair of goals against archrival Toronto in Buffalo's 5-2 victory at HSBC Arena in front of a sellout crowd.

Connolly's night wouldn't end with just the goals, as an assist on Thomas Vanek's empty net marker gave him his first three-point performance since December 19, 2001.

"I think this game is a starting point for us," said Connolly. "We came in, battled hard against a tough Toronto team and I think this game is something to build on."

Connolly scored his first of the night with a simple flip of the wrist at 6:46 of the first period. Charging into the Buffalo zone, the Syracuse, New York native lobbed a shot from the right wing that slipped through Toronto goaltender, Ed Belfour's guard to give Buffalo the lead.

Belfour never really got a good look at the shot as Taylor Pyatt, who was in the lineup for the first time in five games since sustaining a concussion against New Jersey on October 28, was camped in front screening the shooting lane.

"I was looking for a guy and saw Pyatt going to the net, so I just threw it," said Connolly of his first goal. "I was just fortunate that it went in."

Connolly's second goal will be seen on every highlight reel for the remainder of Buffalo's season.

Face-to-face with Toronto defenseman Ken Klee at the left face-off circle, Connolly pulled the puck around his back, sped past Klee and threw a backhanded shot top shelf on Belfour.

"It's definitely one of the better goals that I've scored," said Connolly. "I practiced that move a lot on Rob Ray during the summer. He gave me the confidence to use that move in a game.

"It's worked before, I've just never scored on it. It's kind of like driving wide. You just protect the puck with your feet and go around the guy."

The win was long awaited and well deserved for Buffalo, who had lost six of their last seven games.

"We've had a tough time the last few games," said Connolly. "The guys have been working through it and it worked out for us tonight."

The Sabres outscored Toronto 3-0 in the final period of play to take two points for a division foe and move to 8-8-0 in the standings. Buffalo travels to Ottawa Saturday to face the Senators at 7:00 PM.

"It was important for us," said Mike Grier. "We played well against Carolina and didn't get the win. To battle back in the third and win against Toronto is a big confidence booster, especially going into Ottawa tomorrow."

Toronto tied the game 1-1 at 4:26 of the second, converting on a Sabres' miscue. Alex Steen received a pass from Mats Sundin, who had intercepted Sabres goaltender Martin Biron's clearing attempt, and chipped in his seventh goal of the season.

The mistake didn't hamper Biron, who recorded his second win of the season after making 27 saves.

"Our guys didn't quit," said Biron. "When you want to get out of a bad streak, you have to start by playing well. I think this started against Carolina the other night."

Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff stated during the morning skate that he was looking for veteran players to pull the team out of its downward slide, Mike Grier and Chris Drury answered the call.

Drury scored at 12:33 of the second the give Buffalo the 2-1 lead and Grier extended the Sabres lead to two goals with less than three minutes remaining in regulation to seal the victory.

"It's good to contribute," said Grier of his line, which produced two goals and an assist. "It's been frustrating for us offensively on five-on-five, so it's nice to chip in and help the team out on the offensive side."

With less than five minutes remaining in the second period, Eric Lindros tipped Chad Kilger's shot from the left point for his ninth goal of the season to tie the game 2-2.

Vanek's empty netter extended Buffalo lead, 5-2. The marker was Vanek's third in two games after being held scoreless in 14 straight games.
Scoresheet | Super Stats | Faceoff Comp | Play By Play | Shift Chart

Period 1
1-0 (6:46): Tim Connolly flips a wrist shot from the right wing that fools Ed Belfour to give Buffalo the lead. Taylor Pyatt was screening the Toronto goaltender on the play. Toni Lydman (5) and Dmitri Kalinin (7) record the assists.

Period 2
1-1 (4:24): A misplay by Martin Biron leads to a Toronto power-play goal. Biron's attempt to swing the puck around the boards is intercepted by Leafs captain Mats Sundin, who slings a pass to Alex Steen for the easy chip with Biron hussling to get back to the crease.

2-1 (12:33): With the two-man advantage, Chris Drury dove across the slot and slapped Jochen Hecht's rebound over Ed Belfour to regain the Buffalo lead. Hecht (4) and Teppo Numminen (9) get the helpers. The goal is Drury's third of the season.

2-2 (15:13): Eric Lindros ties the game with less than five minutes remaining in the period, redirecting Chad Kilger's shot from the left point past Martin Biron. The even-strength goal is Lindros' ninth of the season. Assists are credited to Kilger and Tie Domi.

Period 3
3-2 (6:44): Tim Connolly scores arguably the most spectacular goal of the Sabres season so far. Connolly pulled the puck around his back, sped past Ken Klee and backhands a puck top shelf over Ed Belfour. The goal is his second of the night. Teppo Numminen and Dmitri Kalinin get the assists.

4-2 (17:02): Mike Grier collects the rebound off Teppo Numminen's shot from the right point and backhands the puck over a diving Ed Belfour. Teppo Numminen gets his third assist of the night, while Chris Drury gets his second point of the night.

5-2 (19:48): With seconds remaining on the clock, Thomas Vanek scores on an empty net marking his third goal of the season. Assists are credited to Taylor Pyatt and Tim Connolly, his third point of the night.
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